Nightmare Code Interview with Mark Netter Pt. 1

Recently, PPF and SeedyReview got a chance to sit down with Mark Netter, the director of Nightmare Code, and talked in depth about Nightmare Code and horror movies in general. The podcast can be listened to over at PPF.

You can also go here and read the Seedy Review of Nightmare Code.

Nightmare Code can be watched over at Steam, Vimeo, and many other streaming services and is definitely worth checking out.

PPF: We have MARK NETTER, the director of Nightmare Code, and we actually get to talk to him about the nature of movie and what his intent was. So, where you from?

MARK: Oh gosh, originally I’m from my outside of Albany New York, a town called Delmar New York. I’m actually happy to say that this past month we did a hometown screening in Albany, and we got a great turnout.

PPF: Awesome, did everyone like the movie?

MARK: Yeah, they seem to. It’s funny because a lot of them were my parents friends. We actually had the oldest average age audience. Because the movie has a kind of interesting visual style where for at least half the movie we’re using four images at once on a surveillance monitor and I really wondered how it would play out. If people see it in their teens or 20s they got no problem. I have kids that are 12 and 15. They watched TV with a devices in their hands. But believe it or not, it went really really well.
We got a tremendous set of questions in the Q&A afterwards and great compliments, and I think it worked.

PPF: And we really I enjoyed it, as well.

MARK: Thank you so much.

PPF: We think it’s always fun to explore the antagonist, especially when it comes to Horror. So, maybe start off talking about the AI and explore that a little?

MARK: Sure, let me take you back to the original concept. The whole movie grew out of an initial concept which was when I worked in the video game industry years ago. I am not a programmer. The movie takes place in a troubled startup trying to finish this behavior recognition program called Roper, and it’s called Roper because it ropes in all the video in the area. We came with an acronym for it as well, but it’s not as interesting. and I actually been put on the spot to come up with that and I kinda forget the whole thing.
What was interesting was the idea that before I started in the business I thought if you had two programmers of similar skill and gave them a task to perform, like creating elevator programmer or a calendar app, that the code would look side-by-side 90% similar maybe 95%. It turns out it’s not true at all. Any programmer will tell you that different programmers solve problems different ways and build things differently. What that means is that deep inside of your programs in your computer, your phone, the DOS kernel that’s hidden inside Windows, which goes back to the late 70s early 80s, there is the personality of a programmer that expresses logic, just like a film-maker would be expressed in shots and editing and music choices and things like that. Our idea was well what if that logic and personality were sentient and what if it was extremely pissed off? That was the core idea behind Nightmare Code.
Then I guess the antagonist in the movie is really the program, ROPER. They’re desperately trying to finish it, but it doesn’t seem to want to be finished. The program is writing its own code. Then there’s some question as to whether or not the original architect of the of the program was an old programmer from the old days, a guy named Foster Cotton and this is gonna be his last hurrah. As you learn during the movie and before the movie starts, Cotton had gone on a murder suicide rampage at the start-up. He started killing the top executives who he felt was lying to him about certain things. Then he kills himself.
The question as the movie goes on is whether or not this code is taking on a greater intelligence. Not only can it recognize people’s behaviors and interpret what they’re thinking and feeling, but it is sort of modifying the behavior and starting to resemble those who are closest to the programmers working on it, as well as resemble that of the dead programmer. The question is are you just dealing with a super brilliant artificial intelligence that Cotton created? Or, Did Cotton’s personality or soul in some way enter the machine, and is he the true antagonist that you’re up against. Hopefully with the movie you’ll have an opinion But I hope it’s also ambiguous enough that it’s something you could argue about or discuss afterwards.

PPF: In my reading, when he became part of the computer he lost his humanity. Is that what your intent was? Once you digitize yourself, you lose your physical form and some aspects of your humanity?

MARK: I love that. You know, it’s funny like a part of me is the film-maker and I don’t want to give you all the answers. But I think what you’re bringing up are incredibly great questions to explore.
So, here’s a couple different things about it. One of them, is there is a good question of why Cotton is so bitter and so angry that he’s being betrayed that this program is being outsourced and that other people will be finishing it. You know, if his soul does enter the machine or he programs his soul into the machine in some way which I wanted it as, I tend to lean more toward your camp although not all of the people who worked on the movie would agree with you. Maybe that it is just an anger that just continues on.
I love this idea about the loss of humanity because of what the title Nightmare Code is actually inspired by. To me, it has three different meanings. One of them is obviously working on computer code that’s very difficult. Sometimes programmers are brought on to work on someone else’s code. Those programmers will always say that the code is written really badly. They’ll say it’s spaghetti code, it’s all over the place, or in our case it’s Nightmare Code. It’s also reference to one my favorite film noir. It is a really dark movie called Nightmare Alley. I’m gratified to see if you do a search on Amazon for Nightmare Code usually Nightmare Alley is right after it. I even took a screen shot of it. Then, the third thing is the idea that I think all movies are about codes of behavior and that at some level you figure out in the first 5 to 20 minutes of the movie who are the good guys who are the bad guys and why are they good. Depending on the type of movie, you may be rooting for the mafia guy who is the better one of the mafia guys. You might be rooting for Clint Eastwood out there killing people. I think that you know the set of values and codes. I think that what Nightmare Code is kind of saying is that the human codes of behavior, those things that for centuries bound us together, are being loosened or changed. Maybe our humanity, like you’re saying, in the characters are metaphors for being lost because of our interactions with technology.
The example that I like giving is; all these guys who think that somehow they are going to get away with cheating on their spouses by going on AshleyMadison.com. Until the day that, just like Roper, Ashley Madison betrays them and their names are released to the public. Not AshleyMadison itself but the hackers who manipulated the technology. For example, in the movie the main character is Brett Desmond who is this young programmer that is brought in after Foster’s done this horrible act. He’s the one guy, the one programmer left in the office trying to fix it. He’s sleeping in the office. He’s away from home. He is desperate to help finish this because of problems in his own past. He’ll be on Skype or a video chat with his wife and daughter who’re halfway across the country in Chicago. The great thing just like with our Skype call right now is technology enables us to be connected in ways that we never could prior to the existence of things like Skype. By that same token, it can also be very distancing and can provide the sense of “well, they’re really over there, so it doesn’t matter what I do over here”. Or, it can provide a sense of loneliness. They can engender a sense of loneliness that I can say good night to my kid but I can’t kiss her, I can’t give her a hug or I can’t be sleeping in bed with my wife. Sometimes I think technology can emphasize that sense of loneliness. I really do think we’re asking the question is technology not only getting beyond our control but is it changing the way we behave. Is it loosening those bonds.

PPF: The one that we really dug about this movie was that your protagonist wasn’t a clean-cut character. He wasn’t your traditional protagonists. He wasn’t a hero. We have seen this guy before in the real world.

MARK: I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that this past him to be involved in some sort of whistleblowing. I think it’s a good question as to whether or not that was a good or bad thing to do. I mean, there is obviously laws that he is broken and things that he’s in hot water for. Supposedly if he helps finish this program, everything will be okay. I think the tragedy of Nightmare Code is Brett Desmond. He is played by Andrew J Wester who did a great job. People, and your fans may know from The Walking Dead where he played Garrison in Terminus.
This guy is a brilliant programmer and in a sense he is the best guy for this job, but the question the movie asks is can anybody beat technology, can anyone beat ROPER? Even the best guy… to avoid giving away the movie but it takes a pretty dark view.
There are also things in his personality that we want to be kind of R-rated, you know? You don’t know if he’s completely good or completely bad. I mean, there’s this way he’s somewhat dismissive when he’s talking to his Indian counterpart. He’s the company our optics is now outsourced almost all the programming to except for Brett over to India. There’s some moments he is dishonest. He doesn’t particularly take good care of himself. He is using some chemicals to stay awake at work late nights. I just like that because I think most of us and believe we’re good people but everybody’s got some sort of secret. Everybody’s got different sides to them depending on the situation, certainly depending on the amount of pressure you’re put under.

PPF: Would you say knowledge is one of the corrupting factors in this story?

MARK: You know that’s kinda like a real Adam and Eve thing, right? It’s like the whole idea that the Apple was knowledge and that somehow they got the knowledge of their nakedness and then suddenly down comes the garden or they were kicked out of the garden. I think that’s really kind of interesting idea.
We were kinda going with the idea with Cotton. That you never know who’s watching you. I think we live lives now where even in private we have to be careful of what were doing isn’t being publicized in some fashion. Since we started working on the movie and telling people about it, other people tell me that they cover up the camera on their laptop or their computer. Unless they want to be seen and they flip-up a piece of cardboard, but they keep it covered.
But, I think you’re kinda right in a way. I think it’s kind of a cool horror movie thing to write. The the familiar classic horror idea is Bluebeard. Bluebeard gets his young wife and says, “you can go to any place in my home you like. I’m going out on a business trip or hunting trip or whatever it is just don’t go in to that room, okay? If you stay out of that room everything will be okay, and of course she goes into that room. She finds mutilated previous wife corpses. She drops the key. The key gets blood on it. She can’t get the blood off. She comes out. She thinks that she’s okay and locks the door. Bluebeard comes home and within five minutes he knows that she’s been in there and that’s going to be curtains for her. So I think that’s kind of our horror idea of be careful what you want to know. Maybe that’s our way of doing it in Nightmare Code.
Also, if you’re an audience member, you know that the way we kind of ended up showing what happened and the actual massacre that Foster did is we find out when Brett does. Brett gets onto Foster’s computer because he has to at a certain point look for previous builds because his old and new ones are getting corrupted. He finds the videos that Foster has saved on his computer around and even after Foster’s death. The one that Brett finds one that’s a whole point of view sequence for Foster going to the office and basically extracting his revenge on people. Each time he comes across somebody, it’s in a sensor of ROPER. The technology is making a decision and you see it based on how they’re interpreted with it whether they’re friendly or whether they’re angry or they are somebody that Foster is gonna want to kill or not. He makes his decisions about who he’s going to pick off and who he is not going to pick off. To some people who are fans of the movie it is a sense of justice. They almost agree with him about his choices which is crazy, but I think that what is really fun for the audience is you’re kind of seeing it go through Foster’s eyes and are also seen through Brett’s eyes, because he’s watching it at the same time and getting just as shocked as you are. Then you’re watching through your own eyes as well, so you’re getting a triple vision going on. There’s a lot of knowledge coming at you very very quickly.

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The Quiet Earth (1985) Review

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In the fall of 1985 New Zealand released The Quiet Earth. Another entry in the last man on earth genre created by Sam Pillsbury and Geoff Murphy. Similar to the Zombie genre, this post apocalyptic genre emerged from the nuclear fever of the Cold War. However, instead of focusing on the social dynamics of the survivors, this genre focuses on what one would do after being left behind.

Bruno Lawrence plays our protagonist Zac Hobson, a scientist who is partially responsible for the disappearance of Earth’s population. The reason behind why there are survivors is an interesting similarity towards the Zombie genre. Everyone who had died during the time of the extinction event somehow came back to life. Rather by suicide, murder, or accident each character we meet is in fact the walking dead. Instead of stumbling around looking for flesh, the characters are learning to cope with their isolation and to discover what happened to the planet and if they can stop the effect.

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The first act of the movie involves Zac learning to cope being the last man on earth. His isolation begins to take it’s toll on his sanity and leads to some of the most memorable parts of the movie. Bruno Lawrence’s performance makes each scene stick and keeps us captivated despite the lack of dialog and narrative purpose. Act II and III introduces us to two new characters. This writers decide to flesh these acts out with a free love subplot. The free spirited protagonist Joanne consistently bouncing back and forth between the Zac the intellectual and Api the alpha male fighter. This subplot seems to only serve to strengthen our bond and to pose another question polyandry versus monogamy. As we approach the last scenes of the movie, the movie becomes increasingly nihilistic. The last shot becomes one of the most iconic and surreal endings which hasn’t been felt again until perhaps Melancholia.

Despite the awkward pacing and obligatory romance, The Quiet Earth is a cult classic because of some of the twists and themes it explores in the last man on earth genre. It subverts the common idea of the walking dead. More importantly, it explores a cosmic apocalypse and not only does it question the role of a scientist in their society, but also it ponders what their relationship is with the universe.

Black Science Vol. 1 (2014) Review

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STORY BY Rick Remender

ART BY Matteo Scalera

COLORS BY Dean White

Black Science is a genre redefining science fiction epic. Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera take us on a reality hoping adventure with a team of flawed ego-maniacal scientists. They’ve just finished building “The Pillar” which allows people to travel to alternate dimensions. They describe it like an onion, the Pillar slides them down through layers of reality to presumably arrive at the core and foundation to all realities. Nevertheless, all is not well since the Pillar had been sabotaged and is constantly jumping the team from one hostile dimension to the next.

Although each jump usually leads the team to a more desperate location, to stay behind will inevitably forfeit their chances of ever going home. With the diminishing crew dying off, even if they choose to carry on who knows how long until it leads to their ultimate destruction. Meanwhile, there’s the chance the Pillar itself is cracking through realities and making all of existence unstable.

Unlike other similar stories such as Fantastic Four, Lost in Space, or Sliders, Remender always puts the danger in the foreground. The peril and doom is just as prominent as any character whether it’s coming from sources such as Frog Warriors, possessed primates, or getting caught in a genocide war or much more. It also serves as the primary motivation for Grant and the team to get everyone back to their own reality. If that wasn’t enough, there’s constant inner-group conflict revolving around power struggles and trust.

As the story progresses, we discover that the team has just as many layers as an Onion. In many stories a character like Grant would be the hero or all round good guy; however, Remender doesn’t insult the readers with stereotypes, cliches, or overused tropes. Instead, Remender likes to bring healthy doses of realism to his characters. From little Pia to Kadir, each is well defined with their own personal flaws, self absorbed motivations, as well as their brilliance and fearlessness. A large amount of tension stems from conflicts between all these very diverse set of characters. This isn’t to say the characters aren’t likable. In fact, not only are the readers able to connect to these characters, but also their realistic portrayal helps anchor us down in this unbelievable epic. For example, we see Grant break away from the idealism and conventional nature of explores and scientists. Each new threat or revealed secret peels back another layer of Grant’s ego until only his raw and primal nature remains. Perhaps he sums it up best when he says,

“Ideology is masturbation. A jerk-off afforded to those few privileged with time on their hands and no wolves at the door. Put that shit to the test in the field. This is what you get. A savage monkey willing to die so long as he destroys his enemy”.

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Also, Remender isn’t afraid to sacrifice lives in order to remain true to the tale. By issue six, the readers have already seen some prominent characters die. With a steady death count, most writers fail to keep the readers from becoming detached. However, each life which is lost, no matter how small their role, is always a gut punch to the readers. Because we care about these people, it adds just that much more tension and feeling of risk. Once again, this shows how much talent is embedded in the writing.

Meanwhile, Matteo Scalera does an excellent job of balancing the familiar with the exotic. Each creature, plant, civilization looks somewhat familiar while simultaneously new and exotic. The eyes never feel like they are staring at another world or planet; rather, they are looking at this world from a flipped and reinvented perspective. Furthermore, praise also goes to Scalera and his team’s endurance for being able to completely rebuild our world from issue to issue. Each new dimension has its own unique and defining characteristics, and it’s always a dark and beautiful treat for the eyes.

At the end of the first arc, we’re left with a nail biting conclusion that Remender has only just begun this ride. He’s kicked off a dynamic and beautiful tale which is willing to challenge conventional story telling and examine how human nature and destiny fit into scientific and technological progress.

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Original Sin #0 (2014) Review

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STORY BY Mark Waid

ART BY Jim Cheung

We’re introduced to the newest member of the Nova Corps and who currently flies with the New Warriors. Unlike other spin offs or crossover events, issue zero does a nice job of catching the readers up on who Nova is. In addition, it throws in a little skirmish to fully nail down the tone and character of Nova. Nova also becomes the relatable narrator. Because Nova is new to the world of Marvel’s Cosmic Universe, new readers are learning along with Nova. This makes it easier for the readers understanding when the story transitions it’s focus on The Watcher.

Presumably, by the time issue one hits the shelves The Watcher, Uatu, will already be dead. After all, Original Sin carries the tag line of, “Who Killed the Watcher”. With that in mind, it’s nice issue zero gives the readers a chance to know the victim and understand Uatu’s purpose. Otherwise, the crossover event of the year will retain little gravity.

Furthermore, the story arc is a classic who-done-it mystery. It will be interesting to see if this mystery will have re-readability to live pass its conclusion. Often these types of mysteries lose their appeal once the ending has been spoiled. Regardless, one of the greatest parts about these types of mysteries are the skeletons hiding in various peoples closets and how those secrets will influence their motivations. Issue zero already revealed secrets behind Nova and The Watchers motivations. Meanwhile, secrets are being revealed in other tie-in issues such as Avengers and Mighty Avengers.

What’s also interesting is issue zero revealed images from other Marvel continuities or universes. We’ve already witnessed Ultimate and 2099 universe converge into the Marvel Now continuity. Perhaps there are more forgotten characters or time lines waiting to be reintroduced.

There’s a large team of great artist behind this story arc and each panel shows it. There’s so much detail crammed into the backgrounds of the panels it almost looks like each section is fighting for attention. Wandering into The Watcher’s layer and exploring what he sees was a treat for the new eyes and old fans. There’s also plenty details given to hologram technology to give every cosmic fan a sense of nostalgic wonder. The colors and shading bring every character to life and the action feels like its exploding off the page. The Marvel Now cosmic titles show how much comic book art has been able to progress since the cosmic era of Jack Kirby.

Overall, we’re sure to see surprising guest appearances emerge from the shadows while other revelations will subvert our understanding of well known characters. Whether or not Original Sin can keep up with its promises remains to be seen, but its first shot in the dark certainly grabs attention.

Trillium (2014) Review

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STORY BY Jeff Lemire

ART BY Jeff Lemire

Once the final page to this incredible arc is flipped, the mind will have to take a moment to soak in the amount of layers and depth Jeff Lemire had just expressed. At first, Trillium begins as a hard Sci-Fi. Lemire crams heavy world building exposition into every tiny panel on his 12 grid layout. There’s a great sentient virus traveling throughout the universe eradicating all trace of humanity. The Trillium flower is our last hope for a cure. Meanwhile, our two protagonist William and Nika are racing against time and space to uncover the deeper meaning of the Trillium flower, the alien race who holds it sacred and the looming black hole.

Like all good Sci-Fi’s Lemire begins his story with a straight forward solve the mystery save the world scenario; however, once the tale finishes it becomes an exercise in existentialism. Lemire breaksdown the conventional linear narrative in order to accurately express his ideas and characters. For example, remember the cramming heavy exposition into those small panels? In addition, Lemire will also force us to flip the book upside down to read the story from the opposite protagonists perspective. There’s an issue where we have to read it from front to back and then back to front. Not only does this approach force the reader to become actively involved, but also this style breaks linear continuity down into a singularity.

Also, Lemire has also went to great lengths to show a communication breakdown. He portrays this rather through people not being able to speak or understand the other, or the perspectives and motivation runs against the protagonist ideology. It’s only solved with patience and a connection through the Trillium flower. A flower which becomes more symbolic for unity as the story progresses. By the way, Lemire even took time out to create an alien alphabet where people willing to spend time can decode and translate the cryptic alien language.

In the background, the architectural designs and details for the Inca temples or the spaceships are highly detailed. Meanwhile the foreground objects such as characters and artifacts often have an impressionist style. With the world building details of technology contrasting with the unusual morphology of the characters and cosmos, it establishes a more classic science fiction tone and style.

Jeff Lemire forces the reader to actively participate in this Sci-Fi adventure, but it isn’t without reward. The amount of work and creativity Lemire put into deconstructing conventional comic book narrative in order to build this epic is staggering and worth applause. Once the final page to this incredible arc has flipped, it will a take moment before we realize Jeff Lemire had cleverly broke down the existential question into one answer. The non linear structure, the shifting perspectives, the use of language and technology it’s all about a message which transcends beyond time and space.

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Dead Shadows (2012)

ImageThe overall story of Dead Shadows feels like an homage to 80’s scifi horror, in particular Night of the Comet.  In the first five minutes, we see our protagonist, Chris, watch his parents die after the Halley Comet flew by. Although it looks like modern times, we are suppose to believe ten years have passed. Chris becomes a tech nerd who slowly builds a relationship the girl next door. The first act makes the story feel like a slow burn Ti West movie. However, that script got thrown out for something that barely resembles a shooting script. The rest of the movie is a montage of campy and somehow diverse mutated parisians melting or ripping each other to shreds. Some scenes are stacked on top of each other in a way where it would have made more sense if we were given a missing scene title card. The only continuity that remained intact in the end was the characters consistent bad decision making. For example, why is he making out with that naked spider woman? Overall, this is a cheaply made scifi horror which gives it a nostalgic flavor. Maybe if they dumped the first act the movie would have felt more focused.

Dune Messiah (1969)

dune messiahDune Messiah is set up to be the antithesis of Dune. This story is set 15 years after Paul became emperor and it reveals what happens when a messiah rules with religious dogma and wields the fear of a jihad. Naturally, there is an undertow of rebellion formed out of dissidents who became slighted during Paul’s transition to power. Because this book was released a few years after the original Dune, it’s safe to assume that the original epic was only written for Frank Herbert to intellectually deconstruct. Although this book is heavy with political philosophy, Frank Herbert wrapped his musings around very thin plot lines. One consists of Paul’s women conceiving an heir, and the other focuses on sister Alia’s love life. Also, because there was a deep tonal shift in the protagonist and his cohorts, there are many characters from the first book who are unrecognizable or completely absent in this story. Overall, it’s an interesting quick read, and it ends with a set up for the next installment, Children of Dune.